It’s not a secret that I love books. Here in my study I often feel like I’m surrounded by good friends. In this series of posts, I’d like to introduce you to some of my friends, both the old ones from centuries ago and the more recent ones. I’ll describe their strengths and, where necessary, their weaknesses. The aim is to help you find good friends for yourself — in other words, to find edifying reading that will give you a better understanding of the Christian faith, a greater grasp of the gospel, and a deeper love for Christ.
What does Jay Adams have in common with the Puritans? I mean, besides many theological commonalities? Both are objects of intense prejudice. Everybody knows that Jay Adams and his counseling methodology is bad, but very few people have actually read anything by Jay Adams. In the Canadian Reformed community, the source of this deep antipathy for Adams can be traced back to a 1977 article in Clarion by Dutch theologian C. Trimp. The article (originally a lecture he delivered at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary), while expressing some appreciation, generally took Adams apart. Trimp’s critique would be parroted by CanRC leaders for years to come. However, what Trimp wrote was based on just one early book of Adams (Competent to Counsel) and, in the meantime, Adams had written several more books. In some of those books, he explained himself further and negated many of the criticisms that Trimp offered. I began reading Adams in university and was immediately impressed by his deep commitment to Scripture and the Reformed faith.
Jay Adams (born 1929) is the author of more than 100 books and remains an in-demand lecturer. He did his seminary training at Reformed Episcopal Seminary and completed a Ph.D. at the University of Missouri. From 1963-1983, he taught at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Prior to that, he pastored a number of Presbyterian churches, including an Orthodox Presbyterian congregation. The Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church currently holds his ministerial credentials. He was the founder of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF) as well as the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC). He’s currently involved with the Institute for Nouthetic Studies.
Why is Jay Adams important? For precisely the same reason I first appreciated Adams back in university: he takes the Bible seriously. He writes on a variety of subjects, from Christian living to counselling to preaching, but whatever the topic, sola Scriptura is his touchstone. You may not always agree with his conclusions, but you have to agree that this is the right approach. Basically, Adams takes the presuppositional approach of Cornelius Van Til and applies it to pastoral theology. I’ve read about a dozen of Adams’ books and have learned a lot from them.
Where do I start? As mentioned, Competent to Counsel was one of Adam’s earliest books, published in 1970. It’s an important book, but it does leave a lot of questions hanging. If you’re interested in Adam’s counselling methodology, a better place to start would be A Theology of Christian Counseling: More Than Redemption. A good follow-up would be How to Help People Change: The Four-Step Biblical Process. A couple of other books that are more directed to the regular “person in the pew”: What To Do on Thursday: A Layman’s Guide to the Practical Use of the Scriptures and The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, Self-Image. Preachers and aspiring preachers need to read his Truth Applied: Application in Preaching.
What to look out for? Adams is a controversial figure. On a formal level, some people have a difficult time getting past Adams’ tone and style. For some, he’s too strident, too forceful, too critical, or too this or that. Theologically, questions have sometimes been raised about Adam’s concept of habituation. George M. Schwab wrote an article in the Winter 2003 Journal of Biblical Counseling (published by CCEF) alleging that Adams was more influenced by O. Hobart Mowrer and William Glasser than by Scripture on this point. When someone has written as much as Adams, you can expect that there will be disagreements and critiques. Meanwhile, another generation of counselors has arisen and some of these (esp. at CCEF) have modified Adams’ approach in what may be described as a kinder and gentler direction. While this is not a serious theological faux pas, if I remember correctly, Adams is also postmillennial in his eschatology.
Writing about Jay Adams in a positive way is a risky endeavour. For every positive point that one might rise, there will be a host of people who raise the negatives. Adams is not infallible, but he does respect the infallible Bible and he is Reformed in his convictions. I know that my life and ministry have certainly been enriched by his writings. Perhaps he has something to offer you too.
BTW, Jay Adams blogs here.